Heritage Foundation’s Election Integrity Scorecard

Dec. 14 was the launch date for Heritage Foundation’s new website Election Integrity ScorecardTo provide information to lawmakers and states on whether their election laws are compliant with best practices standards for fair and secure elections.

Many have contacted us to tell us it’s a useful tool. They also gave us suggestions for improving it.  However, some people have misunderstood it.

It’s important to understand what the Scorecard is—and what it isn’t.  It’s an interactive tool that analyzes the election laws of all 50 states and the District of Columbia (since D.C. residents are able to vote in the presidential election) and grades each state on how well those laws protect voters and the integrity of the election process. 

The analysis is based on a one-year-long review of the applicable laws of each state. This was done after the 2020 elections. It includes any changes or amendments made by the states in their 2021 legislative sessions. The Scorecard will continue to be updated as more states make changes in 2022 and other years.

The grading system is based on assigning scores (and justifications) to 47 criteria within 12 different areas that are essential to best practices—everything from maintaining accurate, up-to-date voter-registration rolls to managing the absentee-balloting process to requiring voters to authenticate their eligibility and identity with effective, reasonable ID requirements.  We’ve even included model legislation on many of these standards.  Keep in mind, however, that no state scored 100 points and that even the top-ranked states can improve.

What the Scorecard decidedly is not is an analysis of how the November 2020 election was conducted, something that some critics don’t seem to understand. There were clearly many flaws in the chaotic, sloppy procedures used in that election in certain states. However, many states took action to fix those issues in 2021, as reflected in the Scorecard.

The Scorecard provides an analysis of all the laws and regulations within each state. As we warn in the Introduction to the Scorecard, “even the best laws are not worth much if responsible officials do not enforce them rigorously” and “it is up to the citizens of each state to make sure that their elected and appointed public officials do just that.” 

There were many instances of irresponsible behavior in the 2020 elections in which state and local officials unilaterally changed or otherwise refused to abide by the election laws in those states that had been approved by their state legislatures under the authority granted to them by the Constitution to determine the “Manner” of federal elections.

It’s not possible to come up with an objective grading system for this problem.  As an example, how would you grade a state in which 140 of 145 counties have competent election officials who comply with state election rules, but you have incompetent or willful election officials in five counties who don’t comply with a select number of election rules in some, but not all, elections? 

Recognizing that this is a problem, though, we grade states on whether they have a constitutional or statutory provision that gives legislatures—and voters—the power to sue state officials who don’t comply with the law, make unauthorized changes in election laws or engage in collusive lawsuits with activists group to effectuate such changes. This provision would help deter corruption.  

We also grade states based on whether or not they prohibit private funding of election officials and offices. Private donors are not allowed to fund election officials or offices. This creates ethical and serious conflicts of interest. It violates principles of equal protection and the “one person, one vote” standard because it could lead to unequal opportunities to vote in different areas of a state.

Some election officials expressed concern about the low grades being given to their states. They fear that voters will blame them.  Some election officials are not to be blamed, as it is ultimately up the legislature and their responsibility to pass laws to enhance election integrity. However, officials can use the bully pulpit in order to press the legislature to do so. 

On the contrary, if there is an effective law in place, and an election official decides that they will not enforce them then it is the election officer who is acting irresponsibly. They are betraying voters’ trust. 

We hope voters, legislators, election officials and others will use the Election Integrity Scorecard in order to improve the electoral process in their respective states. 

The key is to not play blame but to work hard and implement laws, regulations and procedures that will ensure every eligible citizen can vote and have confidence that the vote was counted and processed correctly. 

As Harry Truman said, “Great things can be accomplished when it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.”

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